I belong to a couple of web-related groups on LinkedIn. While these are a great source for news and information, they are also notorious spam magnets. In the Web Development group, I commonly see postings from web companies offering their services. If you’re advertising (or spamming) your web services in a forum full of other web designers and developers, clearly you don’t understanding who your target market is.
Defining your target market is crucial if you want to be successful. Yet most of us fall into the trap of describing ours as:
“Small to medium-sized businesses”
Or even worse:
“Whoever wants my service at the price I’m offering it”
While the first example is a tad bit better, it’s still horribly unspecific. Defining a target market is like setting a goal—the more specific you are, the better chance you have of reaching it. Which goal do you suppose you have a greater chance of achieving: “Make a lot of money next year” or “Earn $60,000 by the end of 2012 by gaining 20 new clients”?
“Small to medium-sized businesses” is a good starting point. But most of us think of a small business as the typical mom-and-pop shop or family-owned business with a handful of employees, and a medium-sized business as having maybe 50 employees. Yet according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, depending on the industry, a company can have as little as 100 employees or as many as 500 and still be classified as a small (not medium) business. Other industries are defined as “small” by annual revenue, which can be $750,000 and lower, or as high as $33.5 million.
For most of us, that pretty much removes the word “medium” from our target market description. While setting your sights on “small businesses” is more realistic, you’re still trying to hit a moving target—and one that’s far too general. Let’s drill down deeper.
I’m sure there are many ways to sub-divide the small business category, but I’m going to focus on three:
- By Vertical
- By Niche
- By Firmographics
Vertical marketing is simply targeting a specific industry, such as hotels or farm equipment manufacturers.
Dave Stein, author of How Winners Sell, recommends that if you sell a horizontal product across multiple industries, you should consider verticalizing, because executive-level buyers want proven solutions from experts who understand their industries, not from generalists. He also recommends you join and participate in their industry trade associations.
When verticalizing, be sure to do your research. I had a private investigator client who, as a joke, would send me links to other bad P.I. websites. This got me thinking about targeting that market, so I had a conversation with him and found out that most independent P.I.s work out of their home and build their own websites (which explains why so many of them were so bad). He told me that many of his colleagues couldn’t believe he “paid so much” for his website. So a little research goes a long way towards avoiding a lot of wasted time.
A Niche is discovering and meeting an unmet need not being served by other companies, or providing a superior solution for small groups of customers that larger companies are unable to offer.
I once met a woman who had created an infant bathing towel that you strapped on, similar to an apron. As a new mom, she found it difficult to lift her baby from the basinet and fumble for a towel to wrap her up. With the strap-on towel, she simply picked up the baby as she normally would and wrapped her with the excess material. Had she discovered a niche market? Possibly so, but she wouldn’t know until she tried to market it—which she had no idea how. She couldn’t sell it online; for all intents and purposes, the product didn’t exist and no one would be searching for it. I suggested she partner with other companies and brands who already sold to her target market, both locally and online, to see if there was any market potential.
Firmographics are the demographics of firms or organizations. Demographics are the characteristics of groups of people, such as gender, race, age, home ownership, employment status, and so forth. Commonly-used firmographics are employee size, revenue size, industry, number of locations, etc.
Firmographics allow you to segment your market into groups with characteristics in common that cause them to have similar product and/or service needs. Firmographics is like Verticalizing on steroids—once you’ve identified a core group of industries that seem lucrative to target, you can segment these even further. Let’s revisit my “research” on private investigators.
If I knew then what I know now, I might not have taken my client at his word … perhaps I’d have done some investigating of my own. Maybe I would have discovered that private investigation firms would be a lucrative vertical. Perhaps some research would have revealed that the best type of firm to target had the following characteristics:
- Single owner or partnership
- 10 employees or more
- $50,000 annual revenue
- No in-house design team
Before you bolt to the phone to start cold-calling P.I. firms fitting this profile, keep in mind that these figures are completely made up. But what might a little of your own research turn up?
Remember I said that defining a target market is like goal-setting—the more specific, the better? The secret to getting a higher-quality client, one that gives you plenty of work and always pays on time, is knowing what you want. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll end up taking whatever you can get.
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.